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Where the Action Is: Smith's New Campus Center

By Jacqui Shine '05

In the year and a half since construction began on the new Campus Center, the structure and the concept behind it have aroused plenty of speculation. Students, faculty, staff and even visitors to campus have contemplated how the 56,000-square-foot facility might change community life at Smith. But the dramatic glass walls and arching steel frame that have piqued this curiosity only hint at the center's potential.

      Meet the director of the Campus Center >

      View a gallery of images of the Campus Center >

      Visit the Web site of the Campus Center >

"When we talk about the Campus Center we need to be aware that we are only talking about a building," says Tamra Bates, assistant director of student activities. "What I am more excited about is the Student Activities Program that we are creating that is going to use the space in the building to add to the Smith community as a whole."

Thus, when students returned to campus this fall, they were greeted not just with a comprehensive new facility that includes the mailroom, bookstore and radio station, but also with an ambitious schedule of community programming -- including concerts, lectures, parties and films. The center has already improved the quality of campus life by giving community members a central place to gather, exchange ideas, relax and engage in an array of social and community activities.

To give students and staff an idea of what the Campus Center can provide, the first week of the academic year was designated as "Campus Center Welcome Week," and the center played host to a variety of events, including a lecture, "How to Be Good," by New York Times columnist Randy Cohen, sponsored by the Office of Student Affairs and the Student Government Association; live music and comedy performances; the annual Student Organizations Fair; and Leading With Excellence, an all-day conference for Smith student leaders. Upcoming events include a weeklong Otelia Cromwell Day film series, a Family Weekend jazz brunch and the ever-popular exam week Dining Services coffeehouse.

All of this, says the center's director, Dawn Mays-Floyd, will "complete the Smith experience through staff- and student-initiated programs that will be social, recreational and educational." The new facility -- and an energetic programming team that has worked at Smith for a combined 10 years -- will bring both continuity and creativity to campus programming. And it's not just a question of finally having more much-needed physical space to host programs.

"Yes, we have more space," explains Bates, "and yes, the building is going to centralize student activities on campus, but we also have a great staff and some fun programming ideas that are going to bring folks to the Campus Center, whether there is something happening in the center or students are just looking for another place to go to watch TV, read a book or catch up with friends."

Students are already making use of the Campus Center to get away from the stresses of academic and house life. "Sometimes you just don't want to stay in your room…or in your house," says junior Chijindu Onuzo. "You want a completely different environment, and the Campus Center is a great central space where you can sit and relax…or just have fun." Students have been quick to take advantage of the game and TV rooms, garden lounge and café.

But the center is more than just a place to hang out. Its facilities and programs may also play a critical role in sparking the challenging conversations on issues that students struggle with, both in and out of the classroom. "Disagreeing with folks and having challenging conversations is one thing," says Bates, "but then to have to share a sink sometimes is enough for students to decide that the conversation isn't worth it." The Campus Center may provide that "comfortable, safe space where people can engage and challenge one another" that students have been looking for.

How the new facility -- both the building and its active, engaged population -- will ultimately change community life at Smith is, of course, something that will reveal itself over time, but the Campus Center has already been successful in providing more space in which students can be themselves.

Ada Comstock Scholar Holly Mott especially values the opportunity to "bring my down time, my regular self, myself outside of class, into the Smith community," especially since she and many other Adas live off campus.

"The building is the cornerstone" of a changing concept of community, says Bates, "but the programs will make the difference."

The $23 million center is one of several capital initiatives in the college's $425 million fund-raising campaign, which began in 1997. A number of significant individual gifts have gone toward the project, including a generous one from cookbook author and television chef Julia Child, class of 1934.

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